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One Small Step for Mets, One Giant Leap for Metkind

If I were going to catalog my Barry Bonds memories, I think the earliest may come from a game relevant given Tuesday's events, particularly Bonds' futile 3-inch vertical try for Xavier Nady's go-ahead home run.

In July of 1988 the Mets were locked in a race for the NL East title with the surprising Pittsburgh Pirates, whose squad featured a host of young up-and-comers like Bonds, then a thin leadoff hitter with both pop and speed, and a Bronx-born power hitter named Bobby Bonilla. Pittsburgh came to town on July 29 with a little confidence, trailing in the standings by only two games, and sending talented southpaw John Smiley to the hill against Mets lefty Bob Ojeda.

I remember attending this game. I went with my uncle Zachary and my friend David Cooper. Our seats were really good, box seats along the left field line, which gave us a nice vantage point for long fly balls. There weren't too many of those on this particular Friday evening because the two starters got involved in one of the best pitching duels I've ever seen in person.

Kevin McReynolds singled to lead off the Mets second but that was the last hit the Mets would record for about the next 90 minutes. Smiley was basically flawless (think Bobby Jones, Game 4 2000 NLDS dominant). The Mets stranded two baserunners in the second inning and that was the extent of their offensive threats. Thankfully for them, Ojeda was equally brilliant. Bonilla got a hit in the second but was erased on a double play. A Bonds walk gave Pittsburgh two on with two out in the third, but a force play ended that frame. A Bonds single in the sixth was Pittsburgh's third and final hit of this contest. The score remained deadlocked at zero.

From the second until one was down in the eighth, Smiley was perfect. He retired 19 consecutive Mets until the No. 8 hitter, shortstop Kevin Elster stepped to the plate. I'd be hard pressed to remember any Met hitting the ball hard in this game until Elster did. He timed a changeup well and pulled it high and far down the left field line. The newspaper stories reference how Elster flipped his bat, but I don't recall that. I remember watching the ball soar past us, with good height and distance. It was one of those that had a chance, but required an extra push from a breath of air to carry far enough.

Barry Bonds has a history, not just of hitting home runs, but of taking them away. When Bonds was young and spry, he had the ability to stretch out his body a bit, and reach out with his glove to snatch away four-base hits. I've talked to those who have been robbed by such a Bonds catch and they rued the missed opportunity.

On this occasion, Bonds got back to the fence and gave it some pretty good ups, getting his glove just over the top of the wall. It was a lot better than the effort that his aging legs offered on Tuesday night. Ball cleared glove by inches. Elster had himself a Nadyesque home run. Mets 1, Pirates 0.

Ojeda made the lead stand with a 1-2-3 ninth and the Mets had their third consecutive shutout of the Pirates at Shea Stadium. It was, what the folks at "Faith and Fear in Flushing" have encouraged me to call a "walk-up" win (game decided in the last of the eighth inning) The Mets would get another shutout the next day, behind the pitching of Sid Fernandez, and take three of four games in the series. That would begin the stretch by which the Mets would pull away from the Pirates en route to the NL East title.

That night at Uncle Zachary's house, David Cooper and I mimicked the effort over and over again because it was rather impressive. The memory is strong enough that it lasts to this day and stands out over a lot of Bonds home runs that I've since seen. It was a great way to be introduced to the talent that was Barry Bonds and a great way for that particular Mets game to be decided.

True Metonds know...Bonds hit .191 with 1 HR and no intentional walks in 68 AB against the Mets in 1988.

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